Career clinic

9th March 2012 at 00:00
This week Professor John Howson answers questions about the dearth of assistant headships and a CV update

Moving to the senior team

I have noticed a huge decrease in assistant head jobs recently. This leads me to wonder, how should you move from middle leadership into senior leadership these days? Do you apply directly for deputy head jobs? Or will it just become almost impossible to get to the senior leadership team until there is a headteacher crisis?

This is an interesting question, because if there is any restriction on the pipeline to headship, it will indeed have an impact on succession planning. Before assistant head posts were created, the route was generally from head of department to deputy head - although there was a short period when a senior teacher role was created as a stepping stone. I am not sure whether the creation of the assistant head grade has made it easier for heads of smaller subject departments to make it into senior leader-ship teams than before, because in the past you might have been able to go straight into a deputy head position without having to have demonstrated leading a large team.

With the reduction in assistant headship vacancies now into its third year, potential heads may have to search farther afield, and be prepared to relocate or do a weekly commute to make the step up to join a senior leadership team in a secondary school.

Assistant head posts have never featured as widely in the primary sector, where a move from a TLR (teaching and learning responsibility) post to deputy head is still relatively common - and some schools do not have a deputy head.

Overall, the assistant head was probably more widely used in the south of England and in London than farther north.

However, I am concerned about the need to ensure that high-quality professional development exists for aspiring heads of department and those seeking to move on to the leadership scale. A world-class education system needs first-class training opportunities for all.

How can I stand out?

I am making my first application for a head of department post in science. I have tried drafting my personal statement three times now. Please can I have some advice about the key buzzwords to use and anything else that is important? Do you have any ideas of the tasks that could be given as part of the interview?

You rightly want to seem up to date in your thinking, but dropping buzzwords into a personal statement without really understanding their relevance can lead to humiliation in an interview if you fail to deal with follow-up questions.

If you are ready for the job, you will have experienced some continuous professional development in leadership, and probably had a TLR post for an area of work in science for a number of years.

You are probably a member of the Association for Science Education and the institute for your specific subject, and you are able to demonstrate good teaching, ideally backed up by an Ofsted report and some key stage results that show how pupils have improved over time.

The interview should focus on what you bring to the job description from your background, and how you would tackle some of the issues facing the school and the science department.

Since the average adult attention span is only 20 minutes, any presentation should not last longer than 10 minutes, otherwise it loses its effect pretty quickly; and it is better to be under time than cut off in mid-sentence. Impact rather than detail is probably what matters. A good photograph is far better than a complicated diagram, as great speakers and even members of the military know.

Your question reveals that you are prepared to put effort and care into your application, and to seek help from others. Relying on the abilities of your colleagues and being able to delegate are key skills for a head of department - persuading others to help you is probably more of an art.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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